Even a Cardinals-Seahawks Tie Can't Save This Season: Dumb Football with Mike Tunison

What the NFL does best is big dumb spectacle, like a double-sided meltdown at the end of a nearly unwatchable prime-time game.

by Mike Tunison
Oct 24 2016, 4:36pm

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night's matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks brought good news: the crushing totality of football badness this season has not yet completely destroyed my ability to enjoy NFL games that end in a tie.

And thank god, because NFL ties are fucking great. In a sport that thrives on dominance, they're rare enough that they seem special and otherworldly. Surely two teams didn't show up only for one not to crawl back to their hole in defeat. This is football! Two men enter, one man leaves. Not two men enter, and both stumble out eying each other askance, wondering what exactly happened.

Yet even a tie couldn't entirely escape the general awfulness of this season. Sunday night was a low-scoring affair—in fact, the lowest-scoring overtime tie in NFL history—between teams with good defenses; whether the 6-6 final score was the result of stalwart defensive play or an inability to execute on offense is up to viewers, and most would probably say it was the latter (and some of them might offer an explanation about how offensive line play isn't what it used to be because of a lack of practice).

Read More: Maybe NFL Ratings Are Down Because The Games Are Bad

Hundreds of theories have been posited, but nobody knows for sure why this year feels like the one that the NFL finally broke. Organizational mismanagement has been a fixture for years—some would say it's not a bug but a feature—but I have a hard time believing that to be the sole cause behind the league's slump. Fans are dissatisfied with the product on the field, but concerns about quality have existed for at least a quarter-century. Officiating blunders and league crackdowns on fun are fine things to complain about, though hardly new if you've been following the NFL for any sustained period of time. Public concern for the health of players has risen, though if that were driving the decline, you'd expect to see similar issues with college football and hockey.

The media wants to pinpoint the One Definitive Cause because that's how the content market works, and one root problem is easier to market as an explanation than a mishmash of things. There are many problems with football, and with the NFL in particular, and even though ratings are down, they're still high enough that a dizzying search for answers moves the needle.

Whether the league is willing to admit it or not, what the NFL does best is big dumb spectacle, and a double-sided meltdown at the end of what had been a nearly unwatchable prime-time game certainly fits the bill. Sunday night's chaos was one of the few times this season has been worth watching, even if it came at the close of a slog of a game. It was football as reality show when the NFL would rather be prestige drama.

Hell, maybe the NFL is dying; it's hard to argue that it shouldn't. That was a mighty good throw, though.

I Want to Be Pete Carroll's Sideline Minder


Credit: NBC

The Seahawks' strength and conditioning coach shouldn't have to waste his valuable time corralling Pete Carroll to keep him from getting a penalty for being on the field. Not when I'm just a phone call away. I've long heard pundits claim that NFL teams should hire clock management experts to coordinate when teams take timeouts and challenges. To me, that smacks of excessive sideline bureaucracy and would only create more confusion. Besides, I don't want that kind of stressful responsibility. I just want to be able to put a leash around Pete's waist and yank him back once he gets the crazy glint in his eye.

The Only Reason to Continue Football Is Gronk's Quest for 69

Bless this endearing manchild and his irrepressible enthusiasm for the sex number. I hope Gronk gets to Touchdown No. 69, whips out his dick, and climaxes on the ball, causing Roger Goodell's head to explode and the NFL to go bankrupt through a roundabout process I haven't quite thought through yet. Sure, I'd be out of a few writing gigs, but that's the sacrifice I'm willing to make to ensure the world is a better place.

Stephen Gostkowski Is Suddenly the Death Star's Thermal Exhaust Port

Credit: CBS

There are many frustrating things about the New England Patriots, especially if you're like me and want them to lose all their games 100-0 for the rest of eternity. High among those is that they've been spoiled by extremely clutch kicking for the Brady-Belichick era, from Adam Vinatieri hitting perfect field goals in the snow to Stephen Gostkowski's long run of annoying productivity.

After being automatic for seemingly forever, though, Gostkowski has been showing signs of vulnerability within the past year. Even if the decline isn't quite Roberto Aguayo levels of yips, it's been enough to draw a stern "We'll work through it" from Bill Belichick, which probably means that Gostkowksi's family is now tied up in a cellar with some sort of deadly implement being lowered from the ceiling with each extra point missed.

The public would likely accept that. Kickers are not greatly valued in our society, I'm afraid.

The Browns Quarterbacks Counter Hits Six

Cleveland is the city of champions. They won a NBA title. They might win a World Series. And they're running rings around everyone in the going-through-quarterbacks department. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns used QB No. 6 on the season in the form of rookie Kevin Hogan. Hogan wasn't all that good as a passer, but I'll be damned if he isn't kind of exciting, which is the most you can ask for out of the Browns. He threw two interceptions and ran for more than 100 yards. He makes me want to watch more Browns games, at least until he is inevitably injured and replaced next week.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fair Harvard's No. 1 Underdog

Geno Smith's return to starting quarterbackery lasted not even a full half (although it did feature a 69-yard touchdown) as he was forced to leave the game against the Baltimore Ravens with a knee injury that was rather harshly questioned by Joe Namath.

So that meant the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played decently, if not spectacularly, the rest of the way as the New York Jets won, 24-16. Fitz was feeling his oats, though, enough to mouth off about the organization's lack of belief in him to reporters after the game. Fitzpatrick described himself as distrusted by the Jets coaches and front office, and then said he plays better as an underdog.

Is it possible for someone who went to Harvard be an underdog? Socioeconomically speaking, no, of course not, fuck you. But in the NFL an Ivy League background is certainly less advantageous than, say, going to an SEC school. So perhaps it's unfair to hold Fitzpatrick's alma mater against him, though there's always the fact that he's making $12 million on a one-year deal despite being a career journeyman with only isolated stretches of good play. So it should have been clear to Fitzy from the outset that the front office doesn't believe he's the team's long-term answer, and he should accept that while enjoying his rather large salary for 2016 without trying to play the victim. Also, go screw, beardy rich boy.

Once Again, It's More Sam Bad-Ford

Credit: Fox

Things finally went awry for what had been a charmlessly efficient Minnesota Vikings offense on Sunday in Philadelphia. The majority of Eagles fans operate primarily on spite, so to see Sam Bradford brought low after a year of mediocre play before them ranks among the season highlights to date. Considering how little blocking Bradford had on Sunday, he could have fared considerably worse, but that sort of thing matters little in the results-driven discourse of the NFL, where the previously unbeaten Vikings are already being written off as clownfrauds for losing one tough game on the road.

Minnesota is going to have to make do without Adrian Peterson until mid-November at the earliest, and their offensive-line issues are unlikely to be fully fixed this season, no matter how much Mike Zimmer wants to chew them out in the locker room. On the bright side, there aren't many defenses in the NFL that can bring pressure like Philadelphia can this season, so the Vikes have time to come up with some answers should they see the Eagles again in the postseason.

Also, did you know the 11-3 halftime score was a first in NFL? It was, and I'm glad we got to experience it together, and that Sam Bradford was a party to history.

Fan of the Week

Commitment to a bit is buying a neon-green body suit and cutting eye holes in the face so you can throw some shades on top of it for the coolness factor that's sure to impress everybody. Your vision is going to be compromised either way. If it's just the suit, you're seeing through a tinge of green. If it's the shades, you're the dork wearing sunglasses at night and humming Corey Hart to yourself. Either way, that's the look this guy was going for, and if it means a decreased ability to watch a joke of a game, is he really the one losing out?

Five Winners Who Covered Their Bloodline in Glory

1. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins running back has morphed from a guy whose most notable feature was making due with just four letters in his name to one of the great rushers of all time, it seems. Against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, he forced ten missed tackles en route to posting his second straight 200-yard game, a feat only done in NFL history by Earl Campbell, O.J. Simpson, and Ricky Williams.

Jay Ajayi is having a breakout season. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2. Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles defensive end had eight quarterback pressures and a strip sack in another statement home win by Philly. Now that Carson Wentz is actually starting to play like a rookie, the Iggles defense might get the credit it deserves for carrying the team.

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots. Pittsburgh's pass rush only exists in the realm of legend and whispers from years past. In fact, the only thing that slowed Brady on Sunday were third-down drops by his receivers. Dreamboat even showed off the wheels by galumphing for three first downs, which is so out of character he might as well have charmed his way downfield by acting like a normal person for the first time in his life. Goddamn strawberry-avoiding weirdo.

4. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals. Green had the catch of the day hauling in a Hail Mary with three defenders around him to make it 21-10 Bengals at halftime on Sunday. Just goes to show that a juggling hobby has tangible benefits aside from the endless offers of sex it doubtlessly elicits from strangers.

5. Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs safety took an interception of Drew Brees back 48 yards to the house to give Kansas City a 14-7 lead in the first quarter. He also added a sack and six tackles in the 27-21 victory.

Five Losers Bathing in the Hard Water of Infinite Shame

1. Blake Bortles. That the Jacksonville Jaguars were a buzzed-about team coming into the season has already gone from being amusing to so alien it seems like it never happened, all within the span of two months. They even got stunted on by the Oakland Raiders punter on Sunday. Of course, the AFC South is so bad that Jacksonville could conceivably get it together and still win the division. Probably not, though, and the consistently maddening play of their quarterback is a big reason why. Whether it's throwing into triple coverage in the end zone, not getting a touchdown against one of the league's worst pass defenses, or getting outshined by the once-forgotten QB of his draft class, Bortles is showing that the Jags are going to have to reset again if they're in position to draft another top passer next year.

To be clear, Blake is tripping here. Photo by Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

2. Jeremiah Sirles. The Vikings had all sort of protection issues, allowing Sam Bradford to be hit an astounding 19 times on Sunday, including six sacks. It didn't help that tackles were shifted from side to side on the line, so what I'm saying is Sirles isn't entirely to blame, but giving up two sacks and another four hurries means he was bad enough to take the brunt of criticism.

3. Case Keenum. The New York Giants had only three takeaways coming into Week 7, so it was nice of the L.A. Rams quarterback to pad their stats with four interceptions in London, including a truly baffling floater that was fair caught in the end zone by a defender to quash a comeback bid in the final minute. Does that mean it's time for Jared Goff? Possibly, though Jeff Fisher has such immense unearned job security that the Rams can continue to be pathetic with the presumptive quarterback of the future on the bench and no one really seems to care.

4. Robert Golden. Turns out covering Gronk is tough, as the Steelers learn again and again. Safe to say, on Sunday Golden was not so [impromptu dance party forms around me and I'm trying to scream the punchline over the beat but it's not working and I die alone].

5. Chandler Catanzaro. Maybe it's unfair to single out one of the kickers involved in Sunday night's comedy of errors, but it was Catanzaro who had the shorter miss in overtime—24 yards to Stephen Hauschka's 28. It was also Catanzaro who got the overtime miss-off rolling, and I can't blame the Seattle kicker for sticking with a theme. Honestly, you could put all of football in these arbitrary categories. I just have to fill in the blanks.

As for Tonight...

Oh shit on a shingle, there's more? Let's just cut our losses and be happy with the happy mess that Sunday night gave us. Is that so unreasonable?

Fine. I guess tickets and commercial spots have already been paid for and those things must honored. Thanks a million, capitalism.

Hey, ESPN's promo for Texans–Broncos makes pretty good use of Third Eye Blind. The 90s rock band that made peppy songs about drug dependency and suicide is having a surprisingly good 2016. They were acclaimed for trolling Republicans at the RNC, apparently they released a new album, and now this.

The use of "How's It Going to Be" is, of course, a reference to the severed relationship between Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler and his former team in Denver. The Broncos probably aren't kicking themselves for passing on shelling out $37 million guaranteed over the next two years to a passer whose rating is among the lowest for starting quarterbacks this season. Not that their quarterback situation is presently any better, though, reliant as they are on the popgun arm of Trevor Siemian until the team feels that first-round pick Paxton Lynch is ready to take over permanently.

With the Raiders winning on Sunday, the pressure is on Denver to keep pace in the AFC West. Houston has a bit more a cushion on account of being in the wasteland of the AFC South. Even if the Texans lose, they'll still be a game up on the sub-.500 Colts and Titans. Osweiler pulled off an inexplicable comeback win over Indianapolis last week after doing nothing most of the game. Perhaps that's just the springboard to excellence he needs in what's been a disappointing first season so far in Houston—though given he'll face the Broncos defense, I wouldn't bet on it.

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